Over the holiday break, I took the time to read former President Obama’s latest book, A Promised Land, and I enjoyed it. He walks the reader through his experiences and views. On a side note, I read it slowly while imagining what he would sound like if he were reading it aloud with his classic pace and tone. Now, I’m not going to get into politics (there are already plenty of views on social media about politics at the moment); instead, I want to focus on what I learned.
- Openness about failures
Early in the book, the president is candid about what worked and did not work for him. He opens up about how he could have done things better and how life isn’t a perfect journey to an ideal destination. From mistakes on the campaign trail to incorrect guesses in office, it is clear that he genuinely learned from his mistakes. He also talks about the mistakes he made when he was young. His candid approach teaches us to embrace our mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.
- He was once not an excellent public speaker
President Obama is known to be an excellent public speaker who captives his audiences wherever he goes. His speech at the 2004 democratic convention thrusted him into the public spotlight, and it is easy to assume that he was always a great speaker. He explains that he did not acquire his speaking skills overnight and that he had to work hard at being a good speaker. Several times in the book, he mentioned speeches that didn’t go well. As he continues to work on public speaking skills, all of us should follow his lead in improving our skills.
- Humour and modesty
President Obama’s modesty and humour are evident throughout the book. He makes fun of himself and doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is an attribute that we can admire and emulate. He talks about how he can’t hide from the public due to his unique ears; his humour is remarkable when compared to other leaders.
- How to communicate complex issues
President Obama is a thoughtful person who explores every possible angle when tackling issues and ways to solve them. He goes through various scenarios and viewpoints methodically and analyzes the causes and effects of decisions. For example, when discussing the economic stimulus package of 2008, he discussed various scenarios and viewpoints on how to improve the economy. From there, he worked with his team to build a clear communication plan but understanding the various viewpoints.
- Importance of building a team culture
In the book, President Obama stresses the importance of building a team culture. He provides numerous examples that highlight the great work of his teams. He attributes much of his success to the volunteers and his team (we haven’t seen this in President Trump). To build a strong culture, another component is listening to all members of the team. For example, he would ask young staffers for their opinions on various topics if they were too shy to volunteer them.
- The role of listening
While he talks about the disagreements he had with folks in the media, amongst both political parties and within his own team, he highlights the role of listening. He notes that listening to and considering other points of view can help solve problems. Changing your opinion based on facts and insights does not make you weak; instead, it shows that you are an inclusive leader focused on achieving goals that benefit us all.
- Importance of surrounding yourself with people whose life experiences, expertise, and views are different from yours
The president explained that he appointed Joe Biden as his VP (Vice-President) in 2008 because he wanted someone with different experiences, expertise, and views. He talked about the importance of having people who are different from you to solve problems and open the door to new possibilities and opportunities.
Even though he was swamped with a long list of things to do each day, he always tried to take the time to listen to people every day. Every evening, he would read five to ten letters from citizens. This approach is something that we can all learn to do, especially in the business world, where listening to our customers daily can help us deliver better value to them.
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